People expect businesses to demonstrate corporate social responsibility by taking stances on pertinent social issues. Some issues, however, are more divisive than others, according to a new study by B2B research, ratings, and reviews firm Clutch.

People support businesses that take stances related to the environment (89 percent), human rights (80 percent), gender (74 percent), and, to a lesser extent, politics (56 percent). Issues related to the environment and human rights are the least likely to cause controversy.

“The environment and human rights are universal,” said Patrick McCaully, CEO of PR firm Pointman News Creation, in a news release. “These will always be issues that resonate with people.”

Consumers want brands to speak out on issues—but some are riskier than others

Businesses are well advised to avoid political stances

Political social issues are among the most divisive, according to the research. People are more likely to stop shopping with a company that supports movements related to politics (15 percent) and gender (10 percent) than the environment (2 percent) and human rights (5 percent).

According to PR agencies and experts, this is particularly challenging for businesses as the line between what is and isn’t political blurs. Businesses should consider how the issue relates to their brand identity and if it will resonate with their audience.

Consumers want brands to speak out on issues—but some are riskier than others

Silence is usually the best option for PR

Regardless of whether a business decides to speak up or stay silent on controversial social issues, it should be prepared for backlash.

Businesses that stay silent, however, run a lower chance of losing customers than those that take a stance. Nearly two-thirds of people (63 percent) are likely to continue shopping at businesses that stay silent on issues they care about, while slightly fewer people (58 percent) say they would continue shopping at businesses that take stances on issues they disagree with.

Consumers want brands to speak out on issues—but some are riskier than others

“You don’t make the decision to jump into a social movement because it’s trendy or to generate buzz,” said Scott Hancock, CEO of BLVR branding agency, in the release. “You do it because it is a belief the runs through the soul of your brand.”

Businesses can use social media to communicate stances to customers

Most people (52 percent) say businesses should communicate stances on social issues through social media. However, businesses risk losing control of the intended message and need to have a well-planned crisis communications strategy in place.

Consumers want brands to speak out on issues—but some are riskier than others

“Once you take a strong position through public relations or social media, it had better be what you believe, can back up, and feel good about as a company because you’re going to open yourself up to criticism,” McCaully said.

Read the full report here.

Clutch’s 2019 PR and Corporate Social Responsibility Survey included 420 U.S. consumers who made a purchase within the last 6 months.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders.

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